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Albuquerque Public Schools

The creation of the SMNHC by Albuquerque Public Schools.

Albuquerque Public Schools

SMNHC site undeveloped: 1967 (Jack Meloy)John Milne, long time Superintendent of the Albuquerque Public Schools, foresaw the growth of Albuquerque and acquired property for future schools all over the county. In 1950, his attention turned to the east mountains, specifically the center property, searching for a recreation area for Albuquerque school children.  The outdoor recreation plan included the opening in 1954 of an APS summer camp in the Jemez Mountains near Fenton Lake, eventually known as Camp Gallagher, and a west slope site in the foothills that was never realized. 

The Center property was appraised in February of 1950 for the Albuquerque Public School Board.  It indicated that the 138 acre property was best suited for grazing, had no water or structures and set its value at $5.00 per acre. In 1951, all livestock was removed from National Forest land, which officially ended grazing of any kind on the federal land near the center.

APS applied for an Institutional Lease (Lease No. S-9414) for the property on January 26, 1950- for “grazing purposes only”; the lease was granted on February 15, 1950 at a cost of $22.75.  A second lease for Lots 4,6,7 Section 2, Township 10N Range  5E, 138.48 acres (Lease No. M-3256) for the same property was issued on January 3, 1951 to APS for $25.00 to last until December 1975 for the same property, but this lease was for “school purposes only, namely the erection of school buildings, playgrounds and other structures”. 

 Two years later, the property was purchased outright by APS on March 11, 1953 (Patent for State Land No. 2287).  At that point the land had no roads, power or water.  On April 2, 1959, Bernalillo County built a road to the property. An easement for electric and telephone line to cross the property was granted in 1963. In 1966, a land swap with George and Gene Hinkle consolidated the property into its present shape.

Outdoor Education ProgrammingJohn Cox with student, 1967

In 1966, John Cox, a physical education teacher at Grant Junior High, obtained a federal grant of $46,000 to create an outdoor education program for students.  Granted under authority of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Title III, the grant was to fund “Projects for Advancement of Creativity on Education.”  Cox, a summer Park Service ranger in the Grand Canyon, was in charge of the grant and development of the site; he originally envisioned the center as a residential overnight facility in which classes would spend a full week. He applied for a well permit and began doing tours in a limited way on the property in the fall of 1966, but it quickly became apparent that more instructors were needed.  

Jack Meloy conducting a tour in 1967 or '68

Jack Meloy, a science teacher at Jefferson Junior High, was hired in the spring of 1967. On April 27, 1967, the first full day tours of the “Outdoor Education Center” by school children began. At that time the site included “just nature and two chemical toilets” according to Cox. During the summer of 1967, with the help of the Neighborhood Youth Corp, trails were built and picnic tables assembled. 

By the fall of 1967 a third instructor, Vera Snyder, had joined the program. By an odd coincidence, Miss Snyder, also an APS teacher, had taken a summer class to the property prior to 1966.  Miss Snyder, based on her experience in field anthropology, noticed several Indian ruins in the area, including the one near Mud Springs and two others in the meadows on the property.  She recognized the meadow sites, little more than disturbed earth and scattered pot shards, as ruins. She sometimes included an archeological segment in the tours she conducted, in which the children would practice finding shards and arrow heads on the ruin sites. One of the ruins was included on an old map near the stock pond.  

Vera Snyder teaching students in May 1968

The fall of 1967 also saw the drilling of a water well. In those early days the center instructors visited each classroom the week before the scheduled tour and presented a slide show consisting of photos taken at the center, based on a theme, like geology, weather, or plants.  During the tour, the same topics would be covered.  Some parents, especially those who lived far from the mountains, were afraid to allow their children to visit, so the center instructors attended  PTA meetings to assure the families it would be safe and would sometime meet the students at the school and ride the bus to the site with the class for reassurance. The instructors provided tours to all grade levels before settling on sixth grade, which was the terminal grade in elementary schools at the time. Private parochial schools also sent classes for tours. Tours were conducted during the entire school year; sometimes the county plowed snow off the road so the school buses could reach the site. If they couldn’t, the classes were taken to La Cueva Canyon on the west side of the Sandias and the tours were conducted there.  Snow shoes were purchased for the children so tours could be done in the snow. 

Within the first full school year of operation (1967-1968), some 8,000 students visited the Center; In addition, the site was improved: four World War II barracks and a small residence were trucked in from Kirtland Air Force base. The two barracks on the northwest side were converted into Natural History and Ecology Museums; while the two on the south side became classrooms and bathrooms. The residence building became the caretaker’s cottage (known as the casita), in which John Cox’s mother lived for many years. 

Children departing bus at SMNHC in the 1960s

In the summer of 1968, the Neighborhood Youth Corp once again improved the trails, but a huge flood one night washed away the trails and much of the road; it also covered the meadow with a thick mud flow.  That winter the Soil Conservation Service proposed a plan to control erosion by terracing the meadow west of the classrooms. The terracing was completed sometime in early 1969. Attendance increased in the1968-69 school year: some ten thousand students participated in education programs. In October 22, 1970, the U.S. Forest Service granted a special use permit to allow trail use and the

SMNHC Barracks, October 1968 (Jack Meloy)


Jack Meloy and Vera Snyder left the program in the spring of 1968: two new teachers,

 Karin Swelling and Tom Parker took their places.  construction of benches at Mud Springs. 

Into the 1970s and '80s

On August 13, 1971, the center, by then known as the  Environmental Education Lab, was  designated a National Environmental Education Landmark by the National Park Service. This was based on its pioneering use of the National Environmental Education Development approach in its curriculum, which emphasized the teaching of “the relationship between man and his environment.”

In 1973, a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency funded a program in which high school students, led by University of New Mexico students, worked on trails and assisted educators on tours one day a week.  Sunday open houses were held to encourage the public to visit the site.  The Jemez camp continued as an integral part of the education plan. In 1975, for example, 600 Albuquerque elementary students attended the week- long camp at a cost of $16 per student.

By 1984, a wildlife survey conducted by students found that the turkey population on the center grounds was shrinking; soon they would disappear completely.  In 1990, the tall ponderosa tree near Paradise Springs died and became “the snag”; it had been struck by lightning some 30 years earlier.